The University System Needs To Stop Lying To The Public


The university system folks continue to insist that the “public” meeting they asked the public to leave was not a violation of open meeting laws, according to an article from Brandi Jewett this morning. The Attorney General will ultimately decide that when he rules on my complaint over the meeting, but more interesting is the insistence by university system officials that they always intended for this meeting to be public.

“This is not a secret tape of a secret meeting,” Chancellor Larry Skogen told Jewett. “This is public tape of a public meeting.”

Yesterday, during the Chamber of Commerce’s policy summit, State Board of Higher Education President Kirsten Diederich insisted that she was “thrilled” the audio was made public, because that’s what the board always intended.

“If we wanted to hide that, why were we running a tape recorder? … We knew this was coming out, but we needed to have this discussion,” Mike Nowtazki quotes her as saying.

I guess Skogen and Diederich are hoping nobody actually listens to the audio, because per the things people actually said during the meeting, that conversation was never intended to be public.

I’ve embedded the audio above. If you fastfoward to about the 7:50 mark you can hear consultant Tom Meredith, just as he’s about to get into some heavy criticism of the university presidents, say the conversation has to be private:

“By the way this has got to be like Las Vegas,” Meredith said, referring to the famous “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” tag line. “It’s in here. Anybody violates that [inaudible].”

Does that sound like someone who expects the audio of the meeting to be made public? It sure doesn’t to me, and it’s worth mentioning that when Meredith makes his call for the meeting to remain private, nobody in the room is heard objecting, from which I think we can assume they all agreed.

But why did they record a meeting they didn’t intend to become public? Well, state law requires it. Section 44-04-19.2 states:

All meetings of the governing body of a public entity that are not open to the public must be recorded electronically or on audiotape or videotape.

Diederich’s denial of reality gets worst. Yesterday she was on Scott Hennen’s radio show (audio here) claiming that all is well in the university system. And yet, anyone listening to the discussion the board members had with Meredith in the clip above knows that simply not the truth.

The university system is in disarray. The board has no control, and no trust of the campus presidents. The academic outcomes from the universities are mediocre, at best, while the cost to both taxpayers and students soars. The board knows this. That’s why they’ve brought in a consultant like Meredith to help them figure out what they’re going to do about it.

Maybe it’s time for them to start being honest with the public about it.